NAVAJO NATION (CNN) – The Navajo Nation has surpassed New York as the country’s worst infected area with the coronavirus. However, the Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico is sparsely populated and it has one of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the United States.
So what’s behind the infections? The beauty of the Navajo Nation masks the vengeance coronavirus has extracted on its people even in the most remote places.
“Out of nowhere it came about and just whipped through us,” said Navajo Nation member Felisita Jones. Felisita Jones is one of the five people in her family who has contracted the virus that takes our breath away.
“I could just… but I didn’t want to go to the hospital,” said Jones. “I didn’t want to leave my kids behind because I had so much to do in life with them. I have all together nine kids.”
She didn’t want to go to the hospital because too many people she knows never made it back home alive. The Nation is now reporting nearly 4,000 COVID-19 cases in a population of 175,000 which means they surpassed New York and now have the highest infection rate per capita in the U.S.
This is partly because the Navajo Nation says it has tested more people than any other state, 11% of its population. But unlike New York, just getting to a hospital with these kinds of resources can take hours.
“So it’s really hard for them to get the care they need if they need to be intubated,” said nurse Kelly Manuelito. “They got to have someone transport them to a facility to like Albuquerque. Phoenix is where we are starting to send people because our ICU’s only have eight beds.”
The Navajo Nation spans 27,000 square miles. They are not short distances which is one of the difficulties getting resources to its people.
With the vast distances, self-distancing might seem easy but it isn’t mostly because everyone shops at the same stores. The president of the Navajo Nation says infrastructure and resources long ago promised by the federal government were never realized and now, there’s a perfect scenario for the virus to spread.
“30, 40% of our citizens here on the Navajo Nation don’t have the luxury of turning on a faucet,” said President Jonathan Nez. “They don’t have running water.”
Generations of families often live in one home, so if someone gets the virus, isolation is often impossible, never mind frequent hand washing.
“And we can change that with the help of the federal government,” said President Nez.
For now, he has placed the strictest of measures on his people as 8 p.m. curfews take place on weekdays and on weekends, a 57-hour lockdown. Not even the gas stations are open.
Their lucrative tourism and entire gaming industry are closed down until further notice.
“We’re talking more than tens of millions,” said TJ Willie with the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development. “Not just amongst the gaming, the tourism but also all of our other enterprises throughout the Navajo Nation.”
The COVID-19 battle Native Americans are facing is just like the rest of the nation except on their tribal lands the suffering is more acute. Forty-percent of families already live below the poverty line.
When the tribal government traversed their Nation, handing out healthy food and bottled water, the lines seemed endless at every single stop. Many were gathering items to help others survive.
Like Felisita Jones, still self-quarantining after a bout with COVID-19. “Right now I feel great,” said Jones.
According to the Navajo Nation president, experts believe the outbreak is at its peak right now. COVID-19 has claimed at least 140 Navajo lives.